Cyd Charisse has been expelled from her New England boarding school and is back in San Francisco with her family-- mom Nancy, step-dad Sid, and half-siblings Josh and Ashley. She very much feels like the unwanted step-child in her family. Her thoughts keep circling back to an unintended pregnancy with her ex-boyfriend Justin and the abortion she had. It doesn't completely rule her life... but it does haunt her. She has an almost-too-wise sound, kind of like Diablo Cody - the arch 30-something hipster attempting to speak in a teen's voice. The book came out in 2002 and already sounds just a wee bit dated... the all-pervasiveness of cell phones and internet was beginning but not at the zenith that it is today. I found the parents being named Sid and Nancy a bit distracting at first, but by the end of the story, I barely noticed.
Forced to do community service, Cyd befriends "Sugarpie" an elderly woman at a senior center. Sugarpie was a psychic and tarot-card reader who faced some heartbreak of her own in her day and provides the kind of womanly advice and support that Cyd finds lacking in her career-driven, money-obsessed parents. Cyd's new surfer boyfriend Shrimp dumps her just before she sets off for a month in New York to reconnect with her father, something which upsets her very much, especially after finding a warm relationship with him following her dysfunctional relationship with Justin. Cyd carries around a ragdoll with her everywhere -- Gingerbread, named after a dessert her father brought her on their one meeting at an airport when she was five. Cyd comes to realize that her biological father "real-dad-Frank" is a jerk and a disappointment. Embarrassed by his affair, he first tries to pass her off as his niece and later as his goddaughter. She connects with her older half-brother Danny, who as a gay man, is united in his outsider status in the family. Older sister Rhonda (who Cyd Charisse later finds out goes by the name Lizbet) is a disappointment as well -- a snooty preppy Catholic, who's horrified to learn that she has an illegitimate sister. Despite all she's been through, Cyd remains somewhat boy-crazed, crushing on her new boyfriend's brother, Wallace as well as her father's New York Italian driver Louis.
I enjoyed Cyd's quirky sense of humor. She refers to her room (when grounded) as "Alcatraz" She finds an outlet for her energy working as a barista and is always ready with a clever come-back.
The tearful confession that Cyd finally makes with her mother, Nancy at the end of the book didn't feel forced at all. It felt as though she was getting her life back on track, and connecting the pieces, especially as Nancy confesses to her that she'd considered adoption -- choosing the name Cyd so that it would be so unique, and memorable that she could find her daughter if they were separated. Sid-dad comes across in the end as a real hero as well. He may not be Cyd's biological father, but he's the guy who is always supportive and there for her.
This is the first in a trilogy of books about Cyd. It's followed by Shrimp and Cupcake.